Thursday, September 1, 2011

Woo Hoo! My First Speech "Walk Out"!

I am pleased to announce that I have had my very first "walk out" during a speech! Actually, I am a bit surprised that it took this many years of public speaking to very diverse audiences for this to happen! After all, my first memory of giving a presentation was my inspiring demonstration on making Thousand Island Dressing during my initial year as a 4-H member when I was only 8 . . . that means I am well into my third decade of public speaking!

As my close friends know, my hearing is not what it should be for an individual of my age, particularly in noisy situations. This was apparent to me during the Franklin County Fair, when I met a most pleasant gentleman who asked if I would be willing to speak to his organization. He had observed me during the Franklin Fun & Learn event at the fair. Franklin County Farm Bureau is a sponsor of this event, which focuses on educating youth on agriculture, science, nutrition, and history. In the midst of the heat of an oppressive July day, the noise of a livestock barn, and the swarm of small children I was attempting to teach . . . I didn't catch all the details, but I knew I had agreed to speak on Farm Bureau & agriculture to this gentleman's organization on August 29th!

On Monday the 29th -- still not sure to whom or where I was speaking -- I hunted down the MCL Cafeteria in Upper Arlington. The secretaries at the local Farm Bureau office had assisted me in preparing some take home items for the attendees: a copy of Buckeye Farm News, a recent issue of Our Ohio magazine, a coupon for Velvet Ice Cream, a Farm Bureau/Nationwide pen, and a membership application, all tucked inside a lovely blue bag with the Franklin County Farm Bureau logo. Upon my arrival at the MCL Cafeteria, I soon ascertained that I would be speaking to the Upper Arlington High Twelve Club. This is a Masonic fraternity group. Most of the attendees were between 65 and 80, and several were accompanied by their wife. Over my first-ever MCL lunch, I learned from my host that this group meets to socialize every Monday and they invite speakers from all walks of life.

As I opened my presentation after the meal, I told the group (of about 25-30 retirees) that I would share with them some background on my experiences in farming, update them on the impact that agriculture has on our metropolitan area, discuss my volunteer efforts with Farm Bureau, and introduce them to some of the activities & benefits that are associated with Farm Bureau membership. As I spoke, I was delighted to see how engaged the group was with my stories. I soon learned, however, that one woman was not happy with the topic . . .

During the portion where I shared my experiences as a farmer, I arrived at the point where I gave a brief discussion of my 5 years as general manager of a local slaughterhouse. As soon as I used this word, a woman in the audience shouted out: "Slaughterhouse?!?" I affirmed for the audience that this was absolutely correct, and that it had been one of the best opportunities of my life. Bear in mind, that when I discuss meat processing, I always use appropriate terminology and I am not overly graphic. I keep my audience in mind (farmers get more in-depth discussion than non-farmers). I answer questions honestly, but I am always matter-of-fact and do not sensationalize the slaughter process.

Once I reached the conclusion of this speech, I opened the floor up for questions. One of the ladies in attendance asked some questions about Halal slaughter, how it varied from Kosher, and what the process actually was during slaughter. As I was just starting to answer this question, the irate woman in the audience stood up and announced "We don't have to listen to this!" As she grabbed her purse to storm out, she also began grabbing at her husband's shirt sleeve to pull him out with her. This gentleman -- bless his heart -- never made eye contact with her and stayed for the rest of my speech!

Reflecting on this event, I was quite amused! It takes a lot to offend me, and this woman definitely made her lunch companions much more uncomfortable than she could ever make me. I have wondered what was so offensive to her. She was of an age (at least 75) that would make me think she would be more receptive to tales of agriculture. Perhaps she was an animal rights activist or vegan, and thus found me completely disturbing. I was pleased, however, by the positive reactions from the other individuals there. Multiple gentlemen told me that I was one of the best speakers they had ever hosted, so I don't think the rest of the group was in any way upset by my presentation. Several of the wives actually came up afterwards to ask me even more questions!

All in all, this was a great experience for me! I am glad I had the opportunity. I was delighted to speak with a group that was so receptive to learning about farming and Farm Bureau. I am humbled to be able to share the stories of farmers in our great state. And most of all, I am glad to know that my love for talking about agriculture can keep my mind focused even with a difficult audience member! Meat processing rocks!

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